Visa Delays For Chinese Assemblers Stall Hemp Fibre Plant

Plans to open Manitoba s first large-scale industrial hemp fibre processing plant by this spring have hit a snag.

Some 20 ocean-freight containers filled with Chinesemade processing machinery have already been on site for months now, but the first team of six Chinese engineers sent by the manufacturer has encountered difficulties acquiring visas to enter Canada.

The work must be done by the manufacturer s own staff, or the warranties for the custom- designed equipment will not be honoured, said Marnie Kostur, executive administrator of Parkland Agricultural Resource Co-op (PARC).

They were foreign nationals from China, said Kostur, who works closely with Plains Industrial Hemp Processing s Chinese owner Robert Jin.

Had they been from anywhere else on the planet, they could have easily come.

Canadian government officials in China have expressed concerns that the workers assembling equipment inside three large buildings that the company has set up near Gilbert Plains might not return to their home country, and instead choose to seek refugee status after arriving.

In any visa application, embassy officials seek assurances and guarantees from visa seekers that they will go home once the work is finished, she noted.

They don t want people to come here, find that they like it too much and don t want to go back, said Kostur.

The delays have thrown a wrench into Plains Industrial Hemp Processing s original plan to start turning hemp straw into fibre by April 2011. Now, the start up date has been moved back to December, or sometime in the New Year.

PARC and other organizations hosted a tour in August of the budding hemp industry in the Parkland region, with plot tours, speakers, hemp industry representatives, and local politicians that was attended by about 80 people.

Jin s company may begin purchasing hemp fibre this fall for prices ranging from $50-$150 per tonne for use in the $10-million, 30,000- sq-ft facility. Roughly half the cost of the project has come in the form of federal loans, along with a grant worth $500,000 from the Manitoba government.

Hydro and natural gas service for the buildings has been arranged and may be installed before freeze-up. Water hookups are completed. One unique feature of the main processing building is a 22,000-gallon water tank that will be used for on-site fire suppression.

The company is expected to employ some 30 workers once it starts turning locally grown hemp into a range of raw materials that will be shipped to China for further processing into a wide variety of products, such as textiles. daniel. [email protected]




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